Get creative: how doing something practical, just for the fun of it, can create a sense of purpose and release. A lesson from childhood.
This is a story of creativity, release, bloodshed, bodily harm, tears, hope and humanity.
Writing those words I am struck by the fact that it could describe my childhood: I was always doing something daft or risky, pushing the limits and getting hurt as a result. Done right: we live and learn – like riding a bike. Children today, especially with the background of elongated lockdowns, pandemic fears and SOPs, are missing these opportunities. Also, so are we: the adults. When was the last time you did something silly for the fun of it? Just the sheer thrill of the adventure?
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a wonderful film. In fact, it is the perfect quarantine movie. Ben Stiller’s Walter is a man who imagines release but feels trapped in his life, too shy to ask out the woman he is falling in love with and compelled to keep his job to support his family. Perhaps the key scene in the whole film is one in which Mitty has taken the step outside of the daily grind and finds himself in Iceland. Exchanging a present for a longboard with a local boy he skates down the hills of Iceland only to find a volcano starting to erupt around him.
The longboarding scene is beautiful: the sense of release and freedom from all of his worries is palpable, he is renewed. He opens his arms to embrace the feeling. And he is absolutely flying down the mountain.
So, faced with the third Malaysian lockdown a real fear washed over me. Could I cope with being trapped again? I had to fight the fear and knew I needed a creative project – something that could help me feel alive instead of online.
It’s possible that you might begin to see where this is going.
The question was: what would the childhood me do? I bought a basic board (the deck) from China. A longboard is what it says, it is a long skateboard that allows you to go very, very fast. I recut the deck into the shape I wanted, sanded it, sealed it, varnished it and added the trucks. As an Art teacher there had to be a design for the base so I set myself the challenge of making a digital picture of a razorblade to see if I could create a hyper-realistic drawing. I changed the word ‘stainless’ to ‘brainless’ in my design as it seemed more apt. The grip tape on the top rucked up so I recut it across the top into a symbol of an aeroplane that added to the sense of release I was imagining.
It was a great project: not too simple, not too difficult. Working with my hands gave me a great sense of purpose. It was technical and required a little skill and craftsmanship. The plan was to take a few weeks to perfect the board but was disappointed to find that it was done in less than a week.
But the creative project was always just half of my plan.
In our housing estate was a long hill. The top was a dead-end – one of those as yet unconnected roads that I love in Malaysia – so no cars would be coming down; though this wasn’t quite the case at the bottom.
To turn on a longboard you wear gloves with thick plastic discs on them: you press one hand flat on the road to turn or carve whilst the other holds the board. My gloves were homemade out of a cut-up kitchen chopping board, garden gloves and a lot of super-glue (my teacher: YouTube).
As you can imagine, turning is both tricky and scary in equal messages. I was getting the hang of it and was starting to fly down the hill. I enjoyed scaring myself. At a very gloomy, fearful time this gave me a childish sense of fun, irresponsibility, freedom and silliness. I loved it.
Now, this is not advisable for everyone. In fact, I wouldn’t advise it to anyone! It didn’t end well. The last time I came to the bottom of the hill to find a car about to turn out onto the road. I made a fast, tight turn away and my knee went beneath me and BANG that was that. Road rash is as nasty as it sounds and I had a limp that I hid from my wife for as long as I could (which turned out to be not very long at all).
That was not the end of the story though. I took my children out on the board (down a significantly shallower hill) and they sat on it together and tobogganed down the path over and over again. It was amazing. They learnt to manoeuvre the board by moving their weight together as a little team and they screamed and whooped with pleasure (with me chasing them down the slope to check they were okay). Those are the days that I will remember of lockdown.
Whilst I cannot advocate longboarding (for legal reasons if nothing else) I don’t regret doing something silly. It made me feel alive – despite nearly killing myself. The real lesson though I feel is that we should be allowed to enjoy what we did as kids, if only on a rare occasion. Also, it is good to recognise that a little risk can lead to unusual outcomes. After all, it is through risk that we progress: do we move to another country? Change jobs? Invest in a business?
There is one more story I would like to share about returning to childhood, being creative and taking a risk. Dr Lonnie Johnson was a very successful NASA engineer. One day he was working on a water jet propulsion system and instead of thinking like a NASA scientist he thought like a kid: this would make a cool toy. He took a risk, got some funding, and went on to create not only the Super-Soaker but also the NERF gun!
Freedom is not just for kids. Creativity is liberating. Longboarding should be left to the experts.
Mr J Clements | Art